This year my heart was properly warmed at the sight of year 11s collecting their exam results, all dressed in their Reading festival gear. God bless them! All excited they were, and so they should be. For most of them this is the most anticipated event on their calendar since last year’s Sheep Fair*. I expect many of them interpreted my indulgent smile as containing a little wistfulness, perhaps even a little envy.
Hmm, not quite.
As I waved those starry-eyed teenagers off, the main emotion I felt was not envy but relief. Relief that I am now far too old for anyone to suggest camping at a festival and all that entails. But not too old that I forgotten what the experience is like.
It goes something like this.
You leave home with a giddy sense of excitement, and yet a niggling feeling that you have forgotten something. Your father slips you a tenner and gives you a quick demonstration of the recovery position using the sleeping dog as a model. Your mother gives you a toilet roll and a bag of apples, and says ‘don’t invite anyone back to your tent that you don’t know, unless they are from a nice school.’ When you slide your rucksack into the boot of your friend’s car, you feel a little lurch of dread – your friend has brought his ukelele.
You spend hour and a half trying to put up tent in light drizzle. Realise bag of poles is still in shed. Have first argument with companions about who was supposed to bring poles. Attempt to prop up tent using guy ropes and some bandages from the first aid kit and the warning triangle from the car. Have second argument with a member of your party who is doing Physics A Level, during which you accuse him of ‘having learned nothing at all about the laws of physics, otherwise you would know how to make this tent stay up.’ Look enviously at large teepee next door, but comfort yourself with the idea that those teepee losers are a bunch of show offs and not really into the festival experience.
You have your third argument of the weekend, about which band you are going to see. You lose this argument (a pattern is emerging in this respect); you end up standing at the back of the field watching some try-hard public school boys pretending to be gangstas, at the same time trying to strain to hear your childhood heroes playing in the other field.
The sun is shining and your mood is improved. You think about having a shower but you can see the snaking queue and make do with a quick squirt of deodorant instead. Your tent now looks like someone has sat on it, but you refuse to be downhearted. It is sunny! You are young! This is going to be great!
You spend the day wandering aimlessly from stage to stage, normally just arriving in time for the encore. Every time you sit down, you realise you are sitting on a main thoroughfare as many wellie-clad stinking types almost tread on you. It is a mark of the quality of the musical experience that the highlight of your day is watching Rolf Harris singing Two Little Boys. You start to cry. Your macho friend laughs at you. You have your fourth argument of the festival.
You spend about two hours trying to find your tent in the pitch black, because the only friend with a torch is the one you rowed with earlier about the laws of physics and he has gone back without you. You finally find it, entirely by accident, and slide into your sleeping bag to find that it stinks of mould because you put it away damp after last year’s Reading Festival. You have a little cry, and wish you were at home in your own nice warm bed.
Yesterday’s sunny weather is just a memory. It has been raining all night and you realise your denim shorts and sandals are not hugely practical. You also realise that your hopes of a festival romance are now vanishingly small, as you are both sunburnt and coated in a layer of black mud. You really really want to go home, but somehow your friends seem to be having a good time. You loathe them all. Especially that one who knows how to play about 5 songs on the ukelele. But only the opening bars. And keeps playing them in rotation. You think about donking him on the head with the warning triangle but then the tent would fall down. In fact you can’t remember what you ever saw in any of your friends. What you can remember, though, is what that niggling feeling was. Oh yeah. You hate festivals. You really really cannot stand them.
The next year – Easter
While sitting in the park in the spring sunshine, you reminisce with your friends about what an amazing time you had at last year’s festival, and the great performances you saw. And yeah, sure you’re up for it this year. In fact, let’s book it right now! Great idea!
So God Bless you, year 11, and I hope you have a lovely time. And, for your information, if you are thinking of starting a festival fire, ukeleles burn really really well.
*This is not an exaggeration, by the way. Round here they are genuinely excited about the Sheep Fair. ‘Are you going to the Sheep Fair, miss?’ they ask, breathlessly. ‘It’s really good fun!’ ‘Just wait, children,’ I say. ‘Just wait until you get to the city.’