The summer of 2013 will be marked in my mental diary as different. For the first year in too many long distant summers, I have not been to a festival. I believe this would have been my sixth year. That’s a lot of mud. It’s a lot of long-drop visits and wellies stuck in the mud.
I have been soaked to the bone, thundered on, burnt, with sunstroke, in tears of joy and abject despair, terrified, and most memorably, absolutely stone cold sober surrounded by an ocean of drunkards ‘moshing’ to The Prodigy, aged 16 and looking for my friends.
Lots of people have a lot to say about festivals. Especially, I’ve found, people that have never been to one. But not me: I have a box of old wristbands – gross I know, but at least they’re off my wrist.
Universally, festivals are bonding, uniting acitivites. While I don’t count the guy that offered me ‘crack for a tenner’ – bargain, if you ask me – in 2009, I do count almost every other memory. ‘I’ve forgotten my loo-roll!’ cried out over a chain of friends at Leeds Festival’s long-drop is a particularly great one. Another was the same event’s ‘Poo Girl’, of Yellow Bubble campsite. She dropped her bag in the loo and went in after it, earning herself a public hose-down by camp emergency services and a nickname that reached even Austrlian news. Classy bird. Facebook groups were created in her honour.
Like underage drinking, where you might have started in a park – I’d like to add that I didn’t – before progressing to an old man’s pub where cleavage is currency and then hitting an actual city, festivals have a lifespan of their own. Comparing photographs from my experiences at 16 to my 19-year-old experience last year – although I look freakishly similar to both – the scenes couldn’t be more different. My last excursion, to Bestival on the Isle of Wight, was a soberish, moderate affair. It took a long time to get there, and even longer to get back. It is the only time I’ve spelt ‘rough’, and hopefully the last.
We were wet and cold, sitting in our sleeping bags waiting for the first ferry for seven hours. It is the only time over-planning has not been in my favour. But I went with my best friend, we camped in a nice, non-smelly campsite equi-distant from the loos and bins and it was scorchio! Seasoned professionals, y’see. We got burnt, we took photos everywhere – at a level of festival expertise where suddenly it becomes okay to do that again, like being a Londoner and going ‘touristing’ for lols – and spent a lot of time face painting. The regression was welcome.
But at 16 I was simply deliriously happy constantly, drunk on Strongbow and the sheer of delight of just being there. My first time was my best time. Lots of tents were burnt – nearly mine, I was rescued and fed Penguin bars to regain sugar levels – and over 60 chairs in our campsite alone. It was something to marvel at.
Sitting down to write this as real adults on my Twitter timeline prepared to head to Bestival – journalists, musicians, actors – was odd. This time last year I was curled up on a hill with a glittery butterfly on my face, Polaroid camera in hand and a can of Red Stripe on the go. For that is, and always will be to me, the festival experience.
But have I missed out this year? No, too busy. But next year, perhaps not. 21 seems the last time to legitimately camp at a festival. For 22 feels much, much older, and I think that guarantees a Premier Inn.