The children's area at music festivals had always been a no-go area for me. But with a son of my own, and having mastered the art of the one-handed pram- push to keep the buggy going across even the roughest terrain with the other hand free to hold a pint, the transition to a new reality has been painless.
With a child at a music festival you are going to have a completely difference experience. You're not going to be dancing till daybreak or drinking the bar dry. But the upside of it is that the hangovers are minimal and the memories are clearer. Plus, at the tender age of one and a half, young Ronnie can now claim he's danced (on my shoulders) to Patti Smith in a field in Suffolk and, on another occasion, been stuffed into his car seat for eight hours to arrive at a national park full of cider-sozzled folkies just in time to catch the tail end of Donovan.
I've been going to music festivals for as long as I can remember, but my willingness to embrace the festival scene with a child has coincided with a shift in festival culture. Ten years ago the mainstream festival calendar consisted of rock monstrosities such as Reading, Phoenix and V Festival - each one as sprawling and anonymous as the next. (There was always Glastonbury, but that's different.)
People seemed to tire of the huge, faceless festival, ushering in a new era of small, dare I say it, "boutique" festivals. These weren't plonked on a desolate, out-of-town airstrip, but situated in national parks or the gardens of stately homes - somewhere where people might actually want to spend some time with their family. This was spearheaded by the organisers of the Big Chill - a monthly club night which made the transition to festival in 1998 when it held a weekender at an "enchanted garden" in Dorset. "The accent was more on providing an environment where people could socialise rather than just get off their faces," says its co-founder Pete Lawrence. "People have kids, or they simply want to slow down the speed of life and appreciate some of the detail you miss in clubbing mayhem."
The UK's biggest festival organiser, Mean Fiddler, followed suit with a low-key event called Latitude in the sweeping grounds of Henham Park Estate in Suffolk. Which is where Ronnie and I found ourselves one sunny weekend in July for his very first festival. Ronnie's dad stayed at home so I was slightly apprehensive as no one else in the group I went with had children. This worked to my advantage as Ronnie had plenty of willing babysitters. But more importantly, the organisers really had thought of everything. Ronnie was still eating baby food at the time, so the fully equipped kitchen in the children's area was much appreciated. As was the lovely, big, soft-play space for him to roll around in. After a long, happy Saturday night watching the headliners, Ronnie spent much of the next day snoozing in his pram, allowing me to relax in the sun.
Buoyed up by our experience at Latitude we then snapped up tickets to the Green Man folk festival at the foot of the Brecon Beacons in Wales. We pitched up near some friends who owned a fully equipped camper van, which turned out to be a huge relief as it rained all weekend. The children's area was full of jugglers, theatrics and craft-based activities - sweet, but useless to under-twos.
Next year we're going to Latitude and possibly the Big Green Gathering or the Larmer Tree Festival in Dorset. "Everyone there has kids," says my friend, who's been taking her child to festivals for the past decade. "You'd feel weird going unless you had at least one." We're also planning to drop in at the Port Eliot Lit Fest in Cornwall.
Then there's Glastonbury. The entertainment for children there is incredible but the size and scale of it, with a tiny boy who's fast on his feet, scares me to death. I suppose I could always do what most parents do nowadays - scribble my mobile phone number up his arm and hope it doesn't wash off in the rain.
THE COMPACT GUIDE: FESTIVALS for 2007
Latitude, 12-15 July, Henham Park, Suffolk (020-7792 9400; latitudefestival.co.uk). Weekend ticket, camping and parking, £95 plus booking fee. Day ticket and parking, £40 plus booking fee. Camping packages from £219 to £2,195 plus weekend ticket. Children 12 and under enter free with ticket-holder.
Green Man, 17-19 August, Glanusk Park, Brecon Beacons (thegreenmanfestival .co.uk). Adult weekend ticket and camping,£98, plus £35 for live-in vehicle. Children 11 and under free with adult ticket-holder.
Big Chill, 3-5 August, Eastnor Castle Deer Park, Malvern (08700 667733; bigchill.net/festival.html). Adult weekend ticket £125 plus booking fee and postage. Up to four children 12 and under free with adult.
Larmer Tree Festival, 11-15 July. Larmer Tree Gardens, Wiltshire (01725 552300; larmertreefestival.com).
Bestival, 7-9 September, Isle of White (020-7379 3133; bestival.net). Full adult weekend ticket £105. Child weekend ticket £52.50. Under-6s free.
Big Green Gathering, 1-5 August, Fernhill Farm, Compton Martin, near Bristol (01225 743481).
Womad, 27-29 August, Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire (01225 743481; womad.org). Until 31 Jan a weekend ticket and camping costs £110. Two free tickets for age 13 and under per paying adult. Additional child tickets £10. Day tickets go on sale nearer the time.