Tim Key: ‘I’ve never been a big festival goer. At 15, I was more likely to help varnish a boat’



I wanted to write a column about festivals this week. As part of my research, I have spent the summer going to festivals so that the column’s a bit better. I am at one now, in a Literature Tent, typing this up. The lady holding the Q and A keeps asking me to stop typing because she wants to find out more about Salman Rushdie’s creative process. I’m sipping cider out of a reinforced plastic cup that I had to pay a deposit for. Occasionally I answer her back. “I’ve got a deadline, love!” It is a good atmosphere. It is chilled.

I’ve been at this festival for three days now and it is amazing. Everywhere you look there’s something weird or wonderful going on. I’ve seen a man hurling some plastic into the sky and catching it on a rope, a good-sized lady eating an ice-cream and a couple walking hand-in-hand past a Portaloo. It’s that kind of festival. Impossible to explain or analyse, you just have to go with it. Embrace it. Yesterday I bought a hat made out of vegetarian wool, and tonight I’m going to drink a whole bottle of port on my own. It’s magical. Oh. Rushdie’s interrogator is giving me more evils.

So far this weekend I’ve nicked about five programmes from snoozing pissheads, but the sun’s so hot I keep getting woozy, dropping off, and losing them. So it leaves me to improvise, catch things as they come. I prefer it this way. Sure it’s nice to wig out in front of Hot Chip or Aled Jones but it’s actually those minuscule ‘festival moments’ that do it for me. This morning I stumbled across an idiot who was blowing bubbles the size of a fox’s head out of a hoop he’d obviously smuggled in, and yesterday afternoon, disoriented by some boiled cider, I spent about an hour licking a tent in the sunshine.

Historically, I’ve never been a big festival goer. I was never the 15 year old tunnelling under the fences at Glastonbury in search of The Cure. Never the tousle-haired, skinny wretch, sprinting past the watch towers, my rucksack bulging with ganja, Strongbow and ear plugs. Never the stinking too-cool-for-school big-lipped kid, wading through mud like a zombie, hypnotised by Sinead O’Connor’s powerful throat. At 15 I was much more likely to do things like stay sober, help my dad varnish a rowing boat or watch Harold Lloyd on my family’s television set. Festivals weren’t on my radar.

Nowadays I perform at the festivals, and to do that I obviously have to come to them. I’m at this one, as always, with Greens and Lamb, my friends from school. We have an agreement. I sort them out with free tickets, and then they drive me here and stump up for things like food, beer, candy floss, ponchos, cigarettes and frisbies. I forgot my tent this time so I go in with them, and because of the whole free ticket thing they have to let me. I also get a rider, for being a performer, which is a boon. If you’re enough of an arsehole about it you can get hold of a lot of stuff. At this festival I asked for 16 local ales (eight in cans, eight in bottles) a carafe of Jägermeister, the port, 40 packets of smoky bacon crisps, 12 Red Bulls and four tubs of almond ice-cream – and the obliging dolphins who run this gig have delivered the damn lot. We’ll nail that tonight and then I’ll crawl in with Greens and Lamb as if I am their young.

Once I’ve got through this Rushdie horseshit I don’t know what I’ll do. I’d like to see someone dancing really seriously at some stage, and I had a face-painting girl paint me up like a tiger earlier so I might see if I can find a mirror. Then food! Some halloumi, perhaps. Or just nick some ketchup from the ostrich-burger stall and have that with my crisps. Possibilities! Ah, I hit the exclamation mark quite hard there and Rushdie himself is now on his feet. He is pleading with me to be quiet. “Almost done, old goat!” I’ll leave it there and listen to the controversial bastard. He’s talking about how he likes to start writing really early, even before he’s had breakfast or showered. It’s fascinating.

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