I finally lost my Electric Picnic Virginity. A bit like the real thing, I’d been watching glamorous people apparently having a great time for years and was feeling a bit left out, even though I could have disposed of it handily enough anytime simply by showing up. But then, you hear rumours about the mess, and wonder if it’s not all it’s cracked up to be and if you’ll just feel dirty and regretful afterwards.
I was also a bit irritated by the weak relationship there appeared to be between attention and attendance. You’d think half the bloody country was at it but 50,000 people isn’t that many. Also, half of them appeared to be media types who were all going for free. I’m a media type. How come no one asked me to go on a freebie?
But enough was enough and if no one was going to ask, then I’d just have to pay for it. Fortunately my husband was in a compliant mood and bought the tickets when they were released 12 months ago. So there we were last week, with the weekend upon us; nothing ready and neither of us entirely sure if we were Festival Material at all.
We checked out the cost of the fancy camping and declared it exorbitant. If we were going we’d have to slum it. I hadn’t slept in a tent since I was 17 and had been quite reconciled to that being the sum total of my camping experience. Still! This was all part of the adventure!
We’d bought a tent last year for the kids for the back garden. For them it was high-spec. For us – sufficiently comfortable. I dropped round to The Brother who displayed his camping accessories in his impressively organised hotpress and selected some luxurious looking sleeping bags, a rucksack and a head torch. Nevertheless, by Friday nerves had kicked in and we chickened out of Night One. We’d go early on Saturday. I used the extra time to make notes from early photos appearing online. Girls had make up mirrors! Oooh – good idea – and threw in mine.
The Festival Look required a colourful mini-dress and glam boots. I pulled out that gorgeous hippie silk mini-dress that looked amazing when I bought it in San Francisco ten years ago and never had the nerve to wear since. This was its moment! My Dubarry boots completed the “practical but fashionable” look.
Then in a generous mood we decided to bring the Middle Child. The 13 year old was technically barred as teenagers weren’t supposed to be let in – and we weren’t sure he had the disposition anyway. There was no way I was bringing a 5 year old despite cute pictures of little children frolicking in mud. But the 12 year old is a free spirit and doesn’t complain much. So I sent him on ahead with Himself. I followed at a more leisurely pace when they had negotiated the stressful business of picking a campsite, which they assured me involved walking for about 5 miles.
Ah yes – the walking. There would be lots of walking. That was the first lesson of Electric Picnic. From the car park to the campsite. From the campsite to the arena and back again. Miles and miles.
At one point as we waded through the mud the poor child said it was like some forced march from World War 2. Humourlessly I reminded him we weren’t walking a thousand miles across a continent, like child refugees today, and we knew there’d be a burger and chips at the end of it. Though I did judge fellow marchers for their prolific littering. The middle-class middle-aged brigade used bins. The millenials fecked everything over their shoulder and sat in their own garbage outside their tents. That was a culture clash.
The other thing that took us by surprise is the sheer size of it. The number of stages, events, services and food outlets was overwhelming. I’d say we tried 5% of what was an offer. It was humbling to see so many hundreds – thousands – of performers involved in so much creativity. Gradually my heart, hardened from domestic drudgery, crushed ambition and bourgeois constraints, softened and the light of music and art lifted my spirits.
I adore music and dancing, but for some reason I’ve never really pursued it. When confronted with it, music consumes me, but I can’t say the word “gig” without feeling like an imposter. In my single life I bought cool music as prescribed by my cool friends to play when they came round. But when I spontaneously bought Moby’s CD one of them joked that if I’d finally gotten round to Moby, it had to be all over for him. It was too. He was never heard from much again.
So on the programme I recognised Madness, The Pretenders and Duran Duran but honestly, most of the line-up I’d never heard of before. This would be a voyage of discovery. And so it was. Apart from the joyous energy of Madness and Chrissie Hynde, I ended up bopping along and laughing my head off to some hard core rap group with a huge fat black man and a white guy who looked exactly like James Corden rapidly learning the lyrics (very simple as they chiefly consisted of “F*** the Motherf***) and shouting RTJ! RTJ! (It transpired they were hip=hop duo Run the Jewels.)
When I copied the hand thing they were doing the child pleaded with me to stop. “Mammy! That’s a black gang signal!” Incidentally, when not being mortified by his mother, he had discovered the recycling scheme by which every plastic cup or bottle was worth 20c. This brought out the entrepreneurial zeal and work ethic of every child on site. He earned €130 over the two afternoons he was there. If we’d brought the others we could have paid for the whole thing.
The other revelation was the crowd. I was wildly impressed with the girls. The effort that went into their outfits, hair and make up was extraordinary. I have no idea how they pulled it off given the conditions, but it showed their wonderful spirit and you’d like to think it won’t be crushed out of them.
But I kept bumping into people I knew. It turns out half the bloody country is at Electric Picnic. Cousins and neighbours. Regular people! At one stage I pointed out a fella in a cap with a great beard and on-trend shirt to my husband: “I think I know that guy. Is he an actor?” He studied him for a minute and said; “That’s our plumber.” And it was!
So am I an “EP” convert? Will I be there next year? Maybe. With a caveat. Yes, but I’ll be checking in to stay with my friend who lives 20 minutes away. No more camping.
There’s no doubt it’s great fun, but you really do need to be fit for it. On Saturday night the rain and wind were filthy. I’d pulled on my jeans under my dress for the cold, and getting into my sleeping bag swapped the dress for a fleece and whipped off my bra. After a warm but fitful sleep interrupted by the howling wind, we woke up to discover a design flaw in the front door of our double tent. The wind had pushed in so much rain my rucksack was soaked as were most of my clothes – most disastrously the bra and spare knickers!
All I had dry was a t-shirt that accentuated my lack of support and a mini-skirt.
Worse, when I got hold of the makeup mirror I shrieked. The humidity had turned yesterday’s sleek hair into straw. How was I supposed to go around a Festival bra-less, with bad hair and yesterday’s knickers bumping into people I knew and surrounded by thousands of unfeasibly well-groomed young women?
All I could do was arrange my bag across my chest to disguise my low-slung bosom and decide that an authentic festival look could incorporate looking like crap. It also meant there was no way I staying Sunday night.
It meant missing Duran Duran but I felt I’d lived enough to make it worthwhile. By 10pm that night I was in a hot bath scrubbing off the filth and so happy to be at home. My legs ached. Everything ached. But I felt alive. And wildly relieved that experiences that seemed out of reach and only for others, could be mine. You don’t have to wait to be asked. Just show up.