Sunday, August 1st 2021, approx. 1am: I am lying half off a semi-inflated camping mat next to my sleeping two-year-old son, our bodies gently vibrating with the beat coming from the neighbouring field, contemplating my past experiences with music festivals. The highs. The lows. The bands. The toilets. So far this weekend we’ve been dealt an interesting mixture: broken tent poles followed by tent-battering storms, a sleepless night, one of our party’s tent collapsing on him and his two-year-old in the middle of the night, hat competition success, kids rocking their little socks off to live music for the first time (that they can remember), a tummy bug making its sinister circulation through our group, a *really nice* falafel wrap, excellent company, great atmosphere, decent music… All things considered, if you write off the first night it’s all been quite succe-
The high-pitched wail comes with an insistent thread of panic from the tent’s other compartment. I scramble to my feet, untangling and fumbling through sleeping bags, zips, a crowded middle compartment and into the small enclosure shared by my daughters just in time to see a plume of vomit splatter all over my four-year-old’s sleeping bag. Ah, I think to myself. Yes. That seems about right.
I think it’s safe to say that, like so many things, my festival experiences have been most memorable for the things that went not-so-well. And the things that went not-so-well tend to refer to weather, toilets, Drunk Twats, camping, weather, inappropriate footwear, weather and, more often than one would hope, vomit. On the other hand, it’s thanks to festivals that I can say I’ve seen live performances by the likes of Oasis, The Killers, Ed Sheeran, The Prodigy, Tim Minchin, Tom Jones, David Guetta, Maroon 5, Tinie Tempah, Labrinth to name but a few. I can’t actually remember seeing half of them, but what I do recall is brilliant, if a little fleeting… Far stronger memories include the surprisingly heavy addition the dozen or so bottles of WKD rolled into my tent and sleeping bag made to my camping rucksack as we traipsed across a really long field from the car-park to the campsite of NASS in 2004. My friend and I at V-Festival 2005 getting completely freaked out while camping alone in a field of Drunk Twats and calling her boyfriend and his mates who drove for five hours to stage a heroic
gate-crash rescue for the remainder of the weekend. Rocking up to V-Festival 2012 in my newly-purchased boho maxi dress and feeling the hideous realisation that I’d completely missed the dress-code of arse-grazing denim hotpants and wellies (the latter despite it remaining a stubborn 30 degrees all weekend without a scrap of mud in sight). Hard to say whether the lowest point of that particular weekend was the affect of the heat on the already-rancid festival toilets, the subsequent discovery on one such visit that I had started my period or the unfortunate vomiting-in-shared-tent incident. To top it all off, I had to work on the Monday afternoon (probably a press week) and my flat was having plumbing work so I couldn’t even nip home for a shower first. Still, The Killers were good. I think?
In any case here I was, nine years later and at an entirely different kettle of festival. Farm Fest, a light-hearted, family-friendly affair in the rolling hills of Somerset; small, unpretentious and perfect for one’s re-introduction to the festival scene after an absence of almost a decade and the addition of several extra people. And, actually, I couldn’t fault the festival itself. The atmosphere was wonderful, we never felt threatened or unsafe, the music was good, the staff were plentiful and seemed on top of things. Even the toilets were nowhere near the level of gross that I’d come to expect thanks to the sawdust-scoop-when-you-poop thing they had going on (though I did get to the point where I brought a sanitiser spray every time I went and stopped letting the kids use them at all in favour of the travel potty midway through day two).
Camping, on the other hand… We haven’t been camping since 2018. We knew the tent had a couple of glitches. We ended up wrapping two of the poles in electrical tape after they shattered during assembly, tying guide lines back on, sewing up holes… Still, it went up and up it stayed. We went to bed on the first night tipsy and optimistic, all three kids asleep in varying degrees of tangled sleeping bags and limbs in the tent’s second compartment. Then the wind started, and I don’t just mean Hub’s ale farts. I mean a >50mph battering courtesy of Storm Evert which had crept onto the weather radar just that morning, promising high winds mostly around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Miles away from Somerset, we chuckled. No one was bloody chuckling by midnight. By midnight I had an utterly freaked out B3 clinging to my neck in our compartment as we tried to comfort him (while entirely unsure if our buckling tent was about to collapse on us at any minute). Next pitch over, our friend’s air tent did collapse on him and his two-year-old daughter, who woke up in a puddle… After rescuing her and battening the tent as best he could, he then promptly came down with a tummy bug. Our other friends took me and B3 into their van for the rest of the night after his screaming showed no signs of abating… Suffice to say, none of us got a lot of sleep but there was certainly a spirit of Dunkirk type thing going on.
The next morning brought no respite from the winds as well as the unwelcome news that the festival itself was postponed due to health and safety concerns brought on by the weather, which meant no breakfast other than dry Weetabix, bananas, cucumber and crisps (kids loving life at this point). At this point, sitting in the car as it was the only non-windy place, we wondered whether we should just give up and go home. We decided to stick it out (mostly because I’d spent most of the week before going a bit extra on my hat competition entry) and Hub came up with the idea of unloading the entire back of the car into the tent, folding the seats down and turning it into a play area. We got out the colouring books, restaurant-toy-bags, charged one of the tablets and well, actually, they bloody loved it and spent most of the rest of the weekend asking if they could go back to the ‘fun-zone.’ Ten points to the Citroen MPV.
Eventually, of course, the storm abated, the festival opened, we donned our tie-dye and had a pretty good first day. The second night brought tranquil weather, we all slept well (we put B3 in with me and Hub turned the ‘fun-zone’ into a single bed) and the next day (Saturday) was great. Our friends got over the tummy bug and won best group in the hat competition, the kids enjoyed a mini rave in the kids’ tent, we donned glitter, temporary tattoos, hair chalk and face paint and joined others dressed in a multitude of festival gear from patchwork to tie-dye, butterfly wings and even a tribe of bees… With nary a hotpant in sight, I did not feel even the slightest bit self-conscious in my wellies, harem pants and ancient crochet top with a rainbow painted on my face. We managed to pull all three kids along in the festival trolley. B3 got in a decent nap in the tent. We even got a “parenting goals” compliment from a bright-eyed young couple
who clearly had no idea what they were looking at.
It wasn’t all sunshine and flowery headbands, though. Gone are the days of casual day-drinking in a sunny field whilst lazily watching parents running after their grubby-faced urchins and thinking, mistily, maybe I’ll do that one day. There are still nappies to change and snacks to fetch. It’s not so easy to vault a guide rope to prevent a small boy mounting a display tractor whilst wearing harem pants and wellies. We lost shoes, we lost mood rings, we dropped a £3 artisanal ice cream on the grass 30 seconds after it was handed over, we found shoes, we took t h r e e h u n d r e d y e a r s to choose a (already forgotten about) selection of cheap souvenirs from the gift stalls. We kept losing the rest of our party as we all tried to keep up with whatever time schedule whichever kid was dictating at any given time… But, overall, we had a good time. I mean, we could have done without the storms and the vomit but… well, how would I ever remember it all?
Bloody nice to be home though.