I think it’s fair to say that this summer's sodden weather has highlighted just how lucky festival goers have been in recent years.
Sure, there have been downpours that tested the mettle of even the most hardened al fresco concert devotee – Glastonbury’s infamous 2005 floods still strike fear into the hearts of those who were there or simply stumble across it on YouTube. But there are normally sufficient gaps in the slate grey skies for the sun gods to lay down a little love on a festival or three. However, this year, thanks to those annoying anomalies with the jet stream, 2012 will surely be remembered as the year that summer forgot.
Yet the show must go on. In January I had promised my four-year-old son Krishan that we would make our yearly pilgrimage to the fields of Somerset to catch a few rays, bands and kids’ activities. In the past, as a family of three, we’d look forward to spending some quality time outdoors, catching up with old friends at a handful of festivals. But this year – thanks to our new arrival – my partner had decided that she would instead enjoy a much-needed sabbatical. The concept of spending a long weekend crammed in a tent with an eight month baby and an overtired toddler (let alone snoring dad) did not appeal in the slightest. So, instead, I’d promised to take my boy alone. I envisaged we’d enjoy a Hollywood-esque extended father-son bonding session in the verdant fields, eating organic ice cream while watching bands, wandering around taking in all the sights and sounds of the festival, and toasting marshmallows around a communal fire before bed. The worst thing would be coping with the sauna-like heat in the tent from the early morning sun relentlessly beating down on us.
How wrong I was. A week before we were due to head to Sunrise festival the country was already under an all-out assault from the kind of soul-destroying, perennial precipitation that brought back vivid memories of winter afternoons in Manchester as a boy. Should I let my son down and cancel our trip just because of a bit of rain? I must admit I toyed with the idea. But then I had a revelation. Three of my friends who were coming were staying in campervans. This was surely a better proposition than battling the elements under a flimsy nylon frame? There would always be somewhere warm and dry to hide out while the worst weather blew over. But I’d never driven a campervan before and as I’d only held my full licence for less than two years the majority of hire places were unable to insure me. A cursory Google search turned up trumps however – a Spaceship - a sort of hybrid people carrier/camper based on a Toyota Previa complete with mattress, fridge, awning – and even a DVD player. It was automatic too, so easier to drive than one of those behemoth mobile homes. Each of the vans are named after a sci fi character (ours was Fry after the lead character in Futurama). And it was orange – Krishan’s favourite colour! I was sold. And it turned out to be a godsend.
The drive from London to Somerset was a dream. But ominously, as soon as we crossed the county border into Somerset, the azure sky that seemed to have stuck close for the majority of the journey was replaced with sobering, gunmetal clouds. By the time we’d met up with our friends at a service station a stone’s throw from the site the rain was so heavy that the wipers had to be on full. On site things got worse. Churned up foot-deep mud meant that we couldn’t stop to pick up our tickets from the box office and instead we were waved through towards the campervan field. A 4x4 was dragging a converted Mercedes van in front of me. Nervously I approached the route into the field and despite slipping and sliding and the mud redecorating the side of the vehicle we managed to reach our allocated pitch. During a brief gap in the rain I put up our huge family tent alongside the campervan – mainly as a place to store the camping stuff I had naively decided to bring just in case the weather ever picked up. Wellies and waterproofs on, Krishan and I set off to find our friends who were pitched nearby and explore the site.
The first thing I realised is just how resilient children are. While adults all around seemed to be continually moaning about the torrential downpours and relentless wind which sent gazebos skyward and threatened to rent tents asunder, the kids just got on with it. Sure there were a few tears and tantrums, and Krishan managed to get through three changes of clothing in the first few hours. But after that he was happy to squelch around in the sludgy mud.
We quickly got into a routine. Our days began with sorting out breakfast cereal for him in the van, then off to a friend’s VW for a cup of tea for me before heading into the heart of the festival. There we watched African drummers on the outdoor stage while the rain held off, wandering brass bands entertained us on the way to pick up our mid-morning pancakes, we experienced a magical moment inside a giant camera obscura that revealed the whole festival site, and the kids’ area never ceased to enthral. The highlight there was on the second day when Krishan joined a group making bottle rockets which were blasted into the air to ecstatic cheers from assembled parents and offspring. We’d catch up with friends in the late afternoon for dinner and a band or two in one of the covered venues. And then, as darkness descended, I’d hoist him onto my shoulders and gingerly pick my way through the treacherous mud back to the campervan field. Boots off and it was time for bed for him and a (deserved) nightcap for myself before I joined him in the back of the cosy camper.
Taking children to a festival is always a challenge – and even more so without a partner to share the chores. Add in abysmal weather and for most people you’ve got the recipe for the weekend from hell. But in the end we had a cracking time. Would I do it again on my own? Definitely - but next year can we have a summer please?
Spaceships Campervan Hire UK (020-8573 2300; www.spaceshipsrentals.co.uk)