The Queenager : Eleanor's Letter (August 22nd 2022)
I've been going to the same festival with the same tribe for 17 years... it feels like home.
To those of you who are new to this newsletter – welcome! To those of you lovely midlifers who are regulars I am sorry this is coming to you on a Monday rather than the normal Sunday, but I’ve been completely off grid at a festival in Devon. (Yup that’s me in the middle above).
I kind of intended to write this on my phone and send it out, but the total lack of any wifi or 4G meant that any phone-age of any kind was impossible – and I am really happy about that. It is rare that any of us get a total break from the tyranny of the pinging email. And even if it isn’t work missives, then the temptation to scroll or read the headlines is often too much even when we are supposed to be off duty. So this time I really was in a non-networked bubble and it was good!
It’s a festival I have been to so many times it is like going back to a familiar spot or a much loved house. Of course it’s a place which only exists for a few days a year, but in my mind it is always there; the waving flags, the saturated green of the hills, the way the clouds build and hasten up the valley (it always rains) and most of all camping for four days with a tribe of friends. Walking through the gate, getting that familiar wristband, putting up the tent – that first sip of fizzy cider. It makes me feel like I have come home.
I first went when my younger daughter was one. My husband had been before. He came back raving about it and insisted we all went the next year. My eldest was three; that first year it was extremely muddy. One of our favourite family memories is skidding across a steep slope there up from the Bimble Inn with the baby in the buggy and the three year old screeching with glee. She is 20 now but still remembers the exhilaration of that night, the twinkling lights, the neon-dressed ravers by the dance tent, illuminated sculptures of flowers, the buzz and throb of 15,000 people all having fun. A world where misrule is the norm; where teeth don’t have to be brushed and adults do silly things. It’s an important bit of the plait of their childhood.
This was our 14th year at the festival – and our tribe has expanded.
It used to consist of a bunch of my husband’s old uni mates plus partners and hangers on, about 15 of us. But now we all have kids who are all adults themselves. We thought that when they got older they wouldn’t want to come to a festival with us, their dreary old wrinkly parents. Turns out we were wrong. These days the kids all come too, with their boyfriends and girlfriends, and we are a multi-generational crowd of camping revellers. This year there were nearly forty of us: teens, students, twentysomethings, old punks, queenagers, new friends (a lovely lady from San Francisco one of my therapist mates met on a course) and old ones galore. My husband has old pals from Devon who turn up there and cousins – it’s quite the scene.
In our posse I’ve known all the kids since they were bumps or babies. The chat flows. Nothing is off limits from ecocide to Derrida, the state of the loos (dire) to who looks the worse for wear. We joke about the year one of the mums peaked too early and spent the whole Saturday sleeping it off in the tent. There is folk-lore galore and terrible in jokes. It feels like four days of hanging out with the family I choose. We laugh, and dance and trek about and drink cider and giggle and put the world to rights and take the piss out of each other. All of us together. I love it.
My student daughter slept in a tent for four nights with me and her dad (she wasn’t keen on the snoring). Surely maternal heaven is being able to stroke the cheek of a much-loved often absent daughter as she sleeps! Her younger sister and her best mate had a separate tent (good job as they were up till 4.30am!). The real joy is in the downtime. No acts are on till 2pm so the mornings were spent languorously cooking omelettes and making coffee (we always take an espresso pot and a jug for frothing the milk). It was first order family time, aimlessly chatting, hugs, applying glitter to each other, shooting the breeze. Time together, hanging out; nowhere else to be, no phones to check. I am sure humans were supposed to live like this with an extended tribe, where there’s always someone whose got the washing up liquid you’ve forgotten, or a packet of extra biscuits. I bought a blow-up sofa with a puncture, and everyone laughed uncontrollably as it slowly deflated and I was left lying on the floor. I love the way the hilarity rolls through the group, great guffaws of kind and bonding laughter mixed with conversations so profound they make you feel a bit teary, and then moments later all whirled up in the dance together, transported to another dimension by the power of the music.
In terms of music my highlight this year was a DJ set by Dreadzone, a rather loungy outing from The Specials and a young firebrand called Bob Villain. I wasn’t a slave to the programme but chanced upon a crazy group called the Snapped Ankles who thought they were space men (amazing funky vibes) and loved The Dandy Warhols – they build up a wall of sound a bit like the Grateful Dead or Brian Jones Town Massacre. Low expectations means it’s always a bonus when you find something you love. I managed to stay off the SuiCider (8% proof, it tastes murky and after a pint or two the knees go wobbly and the tongue stops working) and stayed happy on the fizzy apple stuff at about 3%. The sun shone (more evidence of climate change in all the times we’ve been there it’s never not been wet). Spending three days walking 20k steps, dancing like a maniac and eating only occasionally (Masala Dosas were the best) is a different kind of health holiday. I’ll take it over a spa any day!
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