Susie Rushton: A music festival without the mud


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By Saturday lunchtime the festival goers had become restive, and, at the Golden Galleon chippy, the queue was far from orderly. Sharp words were exchanged about a request for extra napkins. This isn't the laid-back festival vibe I remember of my teenage years. There had even been scenes of mild hurrying as we struggled to make the 11am start on the main stage. If this were Glastonbury, there would have been no problem: you simply amble up to the performance you fancy the sound of; watch from a distance for 10 minutes or so; depart, in search of food/alcohol/something stronger.

Aldeburgh Festival, while clearly a different proposition to Glastonbury, is also in some ways more of a challenge. Narcotics are not available; if the music happens to be boring, well, you must sit still and endure it. Silence and concentration are required. Coleen Rooney won't drop by in a helicopter, but, rather more disconcertingly, you might chance upon Melanie Phillips at a remote coastal pub. And performances start on time. Late arrivals to the Snape Maltings concert hall, Aldeburgh's Pyramid Stage, are ushered to the Late Box, a cubbyhole close to the stage, which was festival-founder Benjamin Britten's preferred seat. It is supposed to be haunted by his ghost, too, which was discomfiting knowledge as we watched a performance of the very last piece of music he composed, for string quartet, in 1975.

And everybody knows you can find odd things in a far-flung field at Glastonbury, but surely nothing as uncanny as Sarah Lucas's carbon-fibre shire horse and cart, which stands next to the reed beds behind the Maltings, the cart surreally loaded with enormous concrete marrows? This part of Suffolk is densely populated with YBAs and the foyers and ticket halls at Aldeburgh were a fringe festival of genitalia, that subject being one of the favourite tropes of contemporary art. What did the silver-haired crowd here make of the giant penises, pubic close-ups and, in the case of another Lucas installation, bosoms fashioned from pairs of tights and cotton wool? I think they dug it – for what else but an extraordinarily broad-minded audience would have enjoyed the headliner on Saturday night, a computer-enhanced performance of a Pierre Boulez composition by the London Sinfonietta? As the orchestra played, the three flute soloists were looped back via a chap tapping away at a MacBook Air, the impressionistic sounds from the instruments cut through with electronic chimes. It was experimental, difficult and quite long, and the Aldeburgh audience, who don't need mud or grass to have a good time, loved it.

What does it mean when men wear red trousers?

Out of the city for the weekend, I counted only five men wearing red trousers, although on Saturday night I did spot a shameless chap who not only sported burgundy-coloured chinos but also slung a red cotton sweater over his shoulders – if the evening turned chilly, was he really going to "do the double"? Fortunately I didn't hang around to find out. Ever since I glanced at the highly-entertaining street-style blog last week, which documents the trend, I can't get through 24 hours without noticing several more examples of the male fashion crime du jour.

Why are so many men wearing red trousers? Theories abound. It does appear to be a dress code among ex-public schoolboy types, who are terrible copycats and will adopt a uniform quicker than you can say Hackett rugby shirt. Red trousers used to be worn by the French army, so perhaps they retain a military association that appeals to a certain type. Philip Larkin wore them, according to some accounts, but they have an allure for male show-offs of every sexual proclivity.

Attacking the drabness of England in 1928, DH Lawrence wrote: "If a dozen men would stroll down the Strand and Piccadilly tomorrow, wearing tight scarlet trousers fitting the leg, gay little orange-brown jackets and bright-green hats, then the revolution against dullness which we need so much would have begun." The red-trouser revolution is here all right, but what does it mean?

In Suffolk in summertime, the living is easy

Like Helsinki and Zurich, Suffolk is one of those places that consistently tops the "quality of life" surveys that claim the formula for happiness is found in a summation of high-achieving schools, access to wi-fi and above-average hours of sunshine. On a warm June weekend it was hard to find fault with this corner of the country, where the reeds gently hiss in the wind and the beaches are a magazine-perfect picture of sand dunes and tastefully neutral-coloured huts.

If anything, Suffolk tends to overdo the Boden look: dinky pink holiday homes, toddlers in junior wetsuits splashing in the waves, the market-town stores selling mounds of fennel bulbs... But, really, the true nature of Suffolk's famous good life is expressed by one symbol: the nippy, mid-range convertible that seems to round every bend when one is on the road.

The car is always driven by a couple in their mid-fifties, who are always on the way to some fabulous gastro-pub, he with a bald head tanned brown, her hoping that the sun won't bleach out the new highlights. Anywhere else in the country, the cabriolet means conspicuous consumption. In this flat, balmy, rural county it looks like a pleasant way to get around – perhaps the most picturesque since John Constable pointed a rather pretty haywain in the direction of a Suffolk river.

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