Spectator on festivals

There are many, many things that illustrate the marked differences bet-ween the world I grew up in and the one my children are now negotiating Cornish sea salt and Chardonnay-wine vinegar flavoured crisps, for instance. That they will all have attended at least one festival this summer is another. They’re festinatives.

I’d never heard of Glastonbury as a child we weren’t a Glasto sort of family. As a teenager, the idea of it terrified me, although I did share a house with someone who went regularly, her boyfriend being the type to scale the fence and flog beer from an icebox. It was a long time ago. These days, he’s probably in a wallpapered yurt being served beer by well-heeled teenagers, his entrepreneurial spirit having led him to become wealthy. Or I suppose he might be in jail.

But, now, even I’ve been to three festivals, all of the small and friendly variety where people seem to have parked their bad moods with their cars and toddlers are pulled around in blissfully comfortable-looking trugs on wheels. You might feel the odd one out if you haven’t got a tattoo (Alfie now has two on the back of his neck, albeit temporary ones), but your festival-goer is a non-judgmental forgiving type, on the whole.

The hippy vibe varies our first festival was Green, which made my brother balk at the loos (no flush, a handful of sand) and have to leave early. On the upside, the wood-fire-powered showers were among the best experiences of my life so far. On the other hand, Anna got hissed at for being tall in front of a fellow teenager last week, although she was more taken aback by the ‘ancient, I mean at least 60 years old, woman’ who took off her lace top and threw it at Tom Jones. ‘She was wearing a vest, but even so…’

There’s something rather charming about lazing around all day and watching a couple of bands at night. These are not, you understand, the sort of festivals where people fly in by helicopter and Radio 1 takes a tent. These are the kind where the food is very good (if expensive), the cider is local and the atmosphere is sweet and laidback. They’re also small enough so that you bump into your son’s teacher and find yourself talking about music, while sipping cider with a man your son usually calls ‘Sir’.

Recommended videos for you

That he turns out to be great friends with the band you’ve come to see (the festinatives have seen them before) makes it all even more mysterious. The icing on this incongruous cake comes when, halfway through its set, the band cries ‘the next one’s for Alfie and Anna’, because dear Sir has organised this ‘shoutout’, which makes their day. Anarchy, this is not.

‘Have you ever been to a festi-val?’ I asked my friend Rebecca when she rang this morning. ‘God, no. Mud. People. Tents on fire.’ Ah yes, the tents on fire. That presents another contradiction within the festival spirit when so many privileged westerners have spent the equivalent of a couple of sandwiches on a tent made by underprivileged factory workers, so they decide, instead of packing the thing up, to leave it or set fire to it instead.

‘That’s not how it was at the one I’ve just been to,’ I explained, describing more of the excellent time we’d just had. ‘So it’s like the Alresford Show?’ Rebecca asks. ‘Well, yes… no. Plus bands. Minus cows. More hair-braids. And nowhere for Zam to buy an axe,’ I replied. I suppose it’s whatever you want it to be. There are drunken teenagers, families with babies, ageing hippies, corp-orate sponsors and middle-aged mothers who like watching the world go by.

I expect I’d bemoan the lack of authenticity had I been a festinative myself in the 1960s, but I wasn’t. I’ve dipped my toes in the festi-waters and found them invitingly warm, but I don’t think I’ll do Glastonbury. And I’ll leave the Monterrey chilli with goat’s-cheese crisps on the shelf. Some things, I really am too old for.

This article was first published in Country Life on August 6 2014