I wouldn’t say I was ever a festival slut, but I did spend a good proportion of my 20s and 30s in various tents dancing to various bands. In those days, for me festivals were mostly about the music and the social crowd (and quite a lot about the drink and drugs), but they were also about turning up to the VIP area in a tour bus with my then boyfriend who did the spectacular light shows for the Chemical Brothers. I became a pro at climbing 40-foot scaffolding towers in silly shoes, as I did at dancing on such towers, and getting touchy and feely as the sun went down. Turning 30, I was no longer with said boyfriend, so downscaled from Glastonbury backstage to buying tickets to the smaller, more manageable Camp Bestival or Womad with my now husband and a bunch of our friends. And soon after came our first baby.
It seems a bit pointless to take a small baby to a festival, although you can carry it around and it kind of does what you want to do, but we did continue for a few more years, booking into family camping. I remember not getting much sleep, … and losing our daughter’s beloved Doey doll and then getting even less sleep. Once babe number two came, we were too whacked to even think about it, but the idea must have gnawed away at some place inside me, as, strangely, out of the blue this year I booked a family ticket to Wilderness. I liked the idea of a festival that has performing artists and writers, and music by a few lesser-known names. I didn’t realise at the time of booking that Wilderness also has lakes you can swim in and a spa, horse riding, boutique banqueting, and lots of other middle-class activities, and that I would bump into about a hundred people I knew from North London. (This, by the way, was nice, but simultaneously a little off-putting.)
We went, we saw, we enjoyed some. But I swore to myself when I woke on the last morning, struggling to get out of the grip of our deflated air mattress, and crawl past a pile of piss soaked sheets and towels (DS had a few accidents), that I would never do it again. It wasn’t the festival’s fault, and I seem to be on my own in feeling this way – most people we spoke to had a great time – but I just couldn’t deal with the people and the noise. It disturbed me some, this new sensitivity. And I couldn’t pretend it was ‘all about the kids’. I wondered, Is it just that I’ve grown up? – as I ran away from the main stage one night, dodging the wild eyed youth dressed as squirrels. Finally, there are other ways I’d like to spend my time, like writing, or reading, sipping fennel tea while listening to Radio 3 (no, seriously). Or maybe it’s simply that we spent our summer holiday this year, like last year and the year before, in a tent in a field in Cornwall. Maybe I’d just had enough of losing things. Maybe I simply needed a room in a house, a clean toilet and maybe even a table.
But saying all that, there were some good things about Wilderness.
Its setting in Cornbury Park is nice – with undulating hills and lakes, and some stunning trees – but then it belongs to some Lord and Lady, friends of David Cameron who was spotted at the festival doing a touch of foraging, or something. We saw two brilliant performances, one that involved a big carousel, music box type flower construction and a crane and French musicians who played the bells, while dressed like Oompa Loompas (Transe Express), and another that had some fabulously skillful trapeze artists (Les Pepones). There was lot of ‘mindfulness’ going on in the talks and debates tent, a bit of al fresco yoga, and a few big names in the fiction tent (I saw A L Kennedy, who made us all laugh, and I hear that Selena Godden was there, though I only caught glimpses of her stomping around with her mobile phone). We watched a cricket match in the sun, and a voluptuous woman streak across the pitch. We played giant Jenga. And as night descended, we listened to Martha Wainwright and Empire of the Sun and a rather dull Rodriguez. We drank a bit of wine and ate lot of pricy fatty food. Some people sat around all day drinking cocktails, but I reckon they were a bit mad because a jug of Pimms cost £60. We preferred to find the shade in the Greencrafts area, where my kids made a sword from Elm, my husband whittled a spoon from a stick and I conjured farmyard animals out of raw wool. This was the bit I enjoyed the most, along with the expression of wonder on my daughter’s face as the sun went down and the trees lit up fluorescent green. ‘Wow, look at the colours,’ she said and I remembered having that same wonder when I was younger … although mine wasn’t quite so pure.
I should never say never, but I’m not sure I’ll do it again until the kids are teenagers and go with their friends and they need a no-longer-so-cool chaperone to join them. Then I can sit back in my canvas chair, read a novel and sip on fennel tea, knowing too well what they’re getting up to, that I’ve done that, seen it all before.