Until last weekend, I had never been to a festival. Or, rather, I had never done a festival: I have, in fact, visited a couple, masquerading behind a day ticket while quietly heading home at midnight to spend the evening in my flat, a place so luxurious that it houses not only a bed and a fridge but also – oh the decadence – a functioning toilet.
I suppose they've just never appealed to me. I'm not really – how to put it? – the camping kind. I quite enjoy having things like electricity and hot water. Demanding, I know.
But this year I was tempted. It was partly peer pressure: my boyfriend first mooted the idea in spring, and has brought it up every other week since then. Andnearly everyone I know has been to one: friends, colleagues, neighbours, neighbours' friends.
But there were other factors: I wanted a holiday, but I couldn't afford much. I certainly couldn't go abroad, what with the air fare, the hotel fee, and the countless other expenses that crop up along the way. But I also fancied something a little more adventurous than a trip to the seaside. So one afternoon I went for it, booking a weekend at the Reading festival on impulse, before I had time to change my mind. If nothing else, I was curious.
Fantastic, I thought. I've done it: I've booked an affordable holiday. What with my £20 tent, £15 rail fare and the £150 cover charge, I had a novel holiday for under £200. Not bad given that I would get to see half of my favourite bands in concert, and get a chance to escape from the city.
What I hadn't bargained for was the hole that would burn in my pocket once I was there. When it comes to festivals, I realised an hour too late, it isn't the getting there that costs. Oh, no – it's everything that's done afterwards. Starting with... eating.
The food prices were astronomical. So astronomical, in fact, that it cost £7 for a sandwich. Who pays that sort of money for two pieces of bread and a bit of meat? The answer is anyone trapped inside a festival with too little sleep, too much alcohol and no other alternatives (ie, me). At £3, a plate of chips was slightly more palatable (financially, at least) but aside from that, my options were limited.
Drinking was just as bad. At £4.60, a pint of beer wasn't that much more expensive than one in a London pub – but then I wouldn't spend an entire weekend in a London pub. And every time I tried to withdraw money – considerably more often that I would have liked – I was met not only with a spiralling queue for the cash point, but a hefty service charge on top.
The thing is, the festival was flooded with people like me: young, scruffy, and far from flush. In fact, many of them were younger, scruffier and even further from flush than myself. How could they all afford to be here, on little more than a casual weekend trip?
The answer seemed to be with careful planning. A quick nose around revealed that almost everyone had come equipped with their own crates of cider, packets of biscuits and tubes of Pringles. Everyone, that is, but me. Some even had iceboxes or portable gas hobs, and I saw one pair of teenagers with what looked like four days' worth of home-made sandwiches and a virtual store-cupboard worth of tinned soup. It wasn't rocket science, of course – it was obvious. With such relatively low cover charges, festivals are bound to make their money elsewhere. I simply hadn't come properly prepared.
As for the rest of the weekend, it was great: I survived the camping experience and left feeling surprisingly refreshed. Whether or not I'll return remains to be seen. If I do, however, I'll bring my own supplies.