“After a bracing bottle shower by the river à la Myleene Klass, I got some beans ready in the pan and we enjoyed a hearty breakfast.”
With the first day of a new job fast approaching, I wanted to have a carefree week of basically messing around drinking and socialising before cracking down to work. My friends and I have been saying we “need to go camping” for years, so when I stumbled across a wild camping opportunity whilst browsing Airbnb, I was intrigued. A man called Chris, who lives in the medieval village of Yalding, Kent, rents out some land by the River Beult for people to have a back-to-basics “away from it all” camping experience. Arriving in Yalding by train, the four of us trekked about two miles to find a secluded clearing with a large oak and a locked wooden hut. All we had by means of facilities were a large jerrycan of water, a fire pit and a composting toilet which we didn’t use. There were no buildings visible and it was well hidden from the road, so it felt completely private meaning we could blast out our music (primarily DJ Khaled’s tenth album, Grateful) without bothering anyone nearby.
We sat in a row by the river taking in our picturesque surroundings, worn out from the journey but pleased to be somewhere so peaceful. Setting to work, the women took charge of putting up the tents and us men got some pasta ready on the old butane camping stove. Even though these were simple tasks, it was still very satisfying to sit together and enjoy our first meal having made camp. Chris turned up as dusk to welcome us and give a cheery warning about a plant called Giant Hogweed which is known to cause severe skin burns and scar for life. Luckily we managed to avoid this fate but it became the main topic of conversation for most of our stay.
After building a bonfire from collected wood, we sat around drinking, laughing, playing Uno and Boomeranging the fire until eventually I produced my recorder and treated my friends to an exclusive performance of Future’s Mask Off. As the fire died down, we scrabbled around looking for our discarded possessions and trying to replicate our usual bedtime routines in the dark. I’d brought a head torch which proved useful apart from an embarrassing moment when I accidentally shone it at the girls as they were taking a piss in the bushes. After saying goodnight to the girls, my friend and I squeezed into our lovely one-man beach tent and settled down for what would hopefully be a long and restful first night in the wilderness.
At 4:50am I awoke with a wet head, blinded by the sunlight and unable to breath. It appeared my friend was also awake so we decided to take a morning stroll along the river. There is something mystical about the period between 4:30 and 6. Most of the drunks have gone to sleep and the early risers have not yet risen. If you’re awake at this time the world feels like your own. The mist hung low over the wheat fields while we made jokes about Theresa May’s naughty adventures as a farmyard trespasser. As we walked back, we collected sticks and twigs to burn for an early morning fire which warmed us through until the dew disappeared and we could reattempt sleeping. The girls somehow managed to be unconscious during all this in their luxury two-man and were still asleep when we woke up the second time at 9:30! After a bracing bottle shower by the river à la Myleene Klass, I got some beans ready in the pan and we enjoyed a hearty breakfast.
A gentle morning was spent doing yoga in the sun and climbing trees, before heading into the village to see what sights, sounds and smells we could soak up in this little home-counties idyll. On googling “things to do Yalding”, attraction no. 1 of 1 on TripAdvisor is the strangely named Teapot Island. This peninsula on the River Medway is home to the largest collection of teapots England (formerly the world) and a café with outdoor play area. Entry to the museum is £2, which gives you the pleasure of admiring over 7600 teapots that a lady called Sue started collecting in the 1980s for reasons unclear. After paying your fee in the entrance bit, Sue ushers you through a door. For every animal, brand, fictional character, TV show, British town, religious holiday and political event, there exists a teapot, and they were all here in Yalding stacked high in every direction. From Daleks to Bambi, the Women’s Institute to the fall of Saddam Hussein, you can find them depicted in teapot form. I was reminded of Amsterdam’s enchanting Sex Museum in which there is a room with walls completely covered in old cut-outs of pornography. Obviously, the subject here is slightly different but in both exhibitions your eyes struggle to cope with the sheer concentration of images before you and it becomes oppressive. We didn’t stay long in the museum as for some reason we were developing a craving for tea. Excited to see what whacky teapot we’d be presented with in the café, we took seats in a pleasant garden area and ordered. Disappointingly it was prepared and served in chunky white mugs that you might find in a staff kitchen. 7600 teapots at their disposal but none to spare for café guests? I was left shaken as I sipped on my sloppily-prepared PG Tips.
The girls were only staying one night so, after being set upon by a flock of pigeons, we bid them farewell and set off back to camp as they headed to the station. It was a pleasantly warm afternoon which we spent lounging around, listening to more of Grateful and comparing songs. Even though DJ Khaled has been around for well over a decade, I’d say 2017 has finally been his year for going mainstream in the UK – with his first two UK Number 1 Singles (I’m the One and Wild Thoughts) and a much-discussed top-ten album featuring over 30 collaborators. There are too many to name individually but they include Rihanna, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Nas, Drake, Jay-Z, Big Sean, Jeremih, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj (obvs), Justin Bieber, Future, Chance The Rapper and the list keeps going. It also features Migos but so does every mainstream album released in 2017 so that’s hardly worth mentioning. Grateful was executive produced by Khaled’s 8-month-old son, Asahd, who also features on the album artwork. With 22 songs, most of which are strong enough to be singles, this is truly an album of the streaming era. Gone are the days of weak filler album tracks, unless you are Katy Perry.
On each track comes Khaled’s usual bellowing of “WE THE BEST MUSIC… DJ KHALED… ANOTHER ONE”, as if we had somehow managed to forget who we were listening to. Apart from the main three singles, standout tracks for me include On Everything (feat. Travis Scott, Rick Ross & Big Sean) and the party bop Don’t Quit (feat. Calvin Harris, Travis Scott & Jeremih). The ridiculously catchy and repetitive Major Bag Alert (feat. Migos) was probably played the most while we were in Yalding and sounds similar to I Got the Keys (feat. Jay-Z & Future) from his last album. They both consist of a man yelling the song title repeatedly and it seems they tell a story about leaving the house after a frantic search for the keys, only to be held up at airport customs. Another favourite is Pull a Caper (feat. Kodak Black, Gucci Mane & Rick Ross), whose intensively chilled sound reminds me of work by the emerging Atlanta singer/rapper, 6BLACK. I Can’t Even Lie (feat. Future & Nicki Minaj) has an outrageously dramatic intro which is similar to the backing audio on Temple Run (that game from 2012). Nobody (feat. Alicia Keys & Nicki Minaj) is a triumphant “I made it” song which sounds great on first listen but soon becomes grating. I Love You So Much (feat. Chance The Rapper) is dull and cringeworthy – I get that he loves his son and of course Asahd looks adorable but let’s face it, no one likes a boastful parent. This isn’t necessarily an album, more an impressive grouping of current songs ready to be shuffled, added to playlists, remixed and sampled. DJ Khaled knows what he’s doing and is ahead of the game in terms of where the music industry is going. I can’t ever imagine sitting down and listening to all 22 tracks like you would a conventional album, but as a playlist of individual songs it works well. Khaled is clearly coming from an upbeat place in his life and as a result, Grateful doesn’t fail to get the party going.
Listen to Grateful here.